I did not know the Pals family, nor had I heard of them until reading the heart-breaking headlines a few days back. This husband and wife (each 29 years of age) and their three young children were recently killed upon impact after being rear-ended by a semi on I-80 in western Nebraska. The Pals family was en route to Littleton, CO, for their final missionary training before being sent out to live and serve in Japan, a culture riddled with dark depression masked by materialism and achievement.
Maybe it was the fact that this crash happened in my home state or that it was a young missionary couple and their kids, but their life story has captivated me. I’ve read the news articles, John Piper’s prayer for the funeral, and every blog entry on the couple’s blog (For the Joy of Japan). I scrolled through adorable photos of the three kids, read the deeply inspiring writings of Jamison, and marveled at Kathryne’s triumphant story of her battle with cancer and submission to God’s call to missions.
I cried silently to God as I wondered the age-old question… why. Why them, why now? I’m not going to even pretend I understand His reasoning and timing. I don’t, at all – but I DO believe it is good and perfect. (For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:9) As I indignantly told God that they didn’t deserve to die, He gently reminded me that none of us deserve to live. Life is a gift. Every day – a gift given by the Giver of good gifts Himself, in which He invites us into His pleasure and work. (a really, really good analogy in Jamison’s blog post, Something my two year old taught me about missions). And when He chooses to give us that gift of earthly life no more, well, His children then receive the greatest gift of all – ETERNAL life with our heavenly Father.
It’s like what Paul says in Philippians 1:21-24, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
In my sadness, I had asked God, “Why now? Why before they even got to START (their mission work)?” He was quick to tell me, “Oh Linnea, they have finished it, and now they are home.” They no doubt led a meaningful, purposeful life for the Lord, as evidenced by the words I have read.
In John Piper’s prayer at the Pals’ funeral, he says to God: “You are good to those who wait for you, to the soul who seeks you. You are good today. You were good last Sunday. We are waiting, we are looking for the salvation of the Lord. We are not running from the yoke of this dark providence, or throwing off the burden of your good sovereignty. But we are waiting, and looking, for the yoke to be made easy and the burden light. You do not hide yourself forever. Though you cause grief, you will have compassion, according to the abundance of your steadfast love; for you do not afflict from your heart, or grieve the children of men.”
Jamison had spoken similarly, though in the context of waiting to go to Japan, in his blog, God’s grace in our waiting: “I (Jamison) began intentionally pursuing vocational, cross-cultural ministry in 2006. That means I’m coming up on a decade of waiting (over one-third of my life). I have often grown impatient and asked God in frustration, “Why is this taking so long?” As we’ve gotten closer to going to Japan, I’ve been asking the same question in a more reflective, less demanding way. I really want to know–What has the Lord been up to in the midst of our waiting? He does not always provide definitive answers to “Why?” questions. Some things will become clear eventually, but we may never know all the things God has done during this season of waiting.” He closes the blog with Lamentations 3:25 – “The LORD is good to those who wait for him.”
Though it seems we may be in a perpetual waiting period of understanding many of the “Why, Lord?!” questions of life this side of heaven, we can take heart in the Lord’s steadfastness in our waiting and confusion and sorrow.
“But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.” – Psalm 59:16. Maybe we can’t seem to muster up the ability to sing some days, but that does not nullify God’s strength, steadfast love, or the refuge He offers us.
Here are a few other blog snippets that I found remarkable and inspiring about mission work (emphasis mine).
- “I think the idea of moving to a different country excites many, especially in my generation. Pick up everything and live a completely different life–sounds kinda exciting, doesn’t it? Retrospectively, part of my initial draw toward cross-cultural ministry came from the excitement of doing something new, fun, different, etc. It’s an adventure! But, adrenaline can’t sustain you for ten years (or longer), especially when you get married, have kids and start getting gray hair–it started on my beard and is now working its way up. While I’m still excited about the adventure of missions, I’m no longer driven by it. Adrenaline has been surpassed by conviction. Our former pastor John Piper has a helpful illustration. If the work of missions is a ship, the desire for God’s glory is the ballast that keeps it from flipping over in the midst of strong winds and tall waves. A conviction that God is worthy of honor among all the peoples is a weight that gives your boat stability to press on through storms. The only reason we’re still pursuing missions is the belief that Jesus Christ is worthy of all glory, honor, praise and adoration. And, he is mostly unknown and un-worshipped in places like Japan.” – God’s grace in our waiting
- “The Lord did not consider himself above dying for the Church; he does not now count himself above dwelling in her midst and working through her. If you care about people knowing and experiencing Jesus Christ, you should care about the work of establishing churches among the nations. And, if you care about the poor, needy and destitute of the world, you should care about church planting. Where else can people go to find Jesus Christ–the one who is full of mercy, who healed the sick, cleansed lepers, gave sight to the blind, drove out demons and defeated death? No one loves the poor like Jesus loves the poor; no one has the power to help them like Jesus does. He is the One both the rich and poor alike need more than anything else. And, Jesus Christ has chosen to dwell in the midst of his people in a unique way and to carry on his work for this world through them. Church planting, then, is a work of compassion–the ultimate humanitarian work–through which people come to be loved and cared for by their Savior.” – Unreached and how we reach them, a blog describing well the distinction between (and harmony of) humanitarian work and mission work.
- “Our hearts are not troubled, because our Father has a house with room for us. Jesus Christ is there now, preparing a place. He is coming again. When he does, he will take us with him, to be with him forever. Then, we will put our roots down deeply and not take them up again. This is a home we can starting sinking our roots into now–we have a home that comes with us wherever we go, and we never have to leave. His name is Jesus Christ.“- Living in transition
- Read this whole post. All of it. Jamison shares bits of a letter he wrote to Kathryne of their call to missions: A second proposal. “We’re not worthy to speak on behalf of God. But, our God purifies the unclean and equips the unworthy. Then, he sends them out. The greatest hindrance to effective ministry is not a lack of knowledge or skill; rather, it is a lack of total dependence on the Lord Jesus for all things. I would rather go to Japan with a wife who says, “Jesus, I need you,” than one who thinks she is sufficient for these things. Beloved, our sufficiency comes from Christ who makes us competent. This is why I believe God is calling us to missions together.
Pray for the Pals family’s loved ones, for the semi driver, for the Lord to call more missionaries to Japan. Pray for healing, for mercy, for love, for hope in Christ amidst sufferings. And live each day on purpose, as the Pals family did, trusting in the Lord’s divine workings. You are here with a purpose. Don’t waste it on petty things. Love others fiercely with the love of Jesus.
To end, here’s a quote by Samuel Rutherford, included in one of Jamison’s blogs:
How soon will some few years pass away, and then when the day is ended, and this life’s lease expired, what have men of the world’s glory, but dreams and thoughts? O happy soul forevermore, who can rightly compare this life with that long-lasting life to come, and can balance the weighty glory of the one with the light golden vanity of the other.